03
Apr
09

Review: Typhoon

typhoon01

With Hong Kong’s quality film output having taken a dip recently, and the Japanese horror craze dead in the water, South Korea has quietly stepped into the spotlight of Asian cinema (Thailand: you’re on in five). From Kim Ki-duk’s brutal psychological investigations to Park Chan-wook’s pulpy vengeance trilogy and beyond, the past few years have seen a steady stream of entertaining, challenging, and wholly original fare coming out of Chungmuro. So it’s something of a shame to see director Kwak Kyung-taek imitating lame American thrillers in his bombastic new film Typhoon. Korean megastar Jang Dong-gun plays Sin, a scraggly refugee-turned-terrorist intent on righting a misperceived wrong from his past, who plans to take out his anger on the whole of South Korea via dirty bomb. Standing in his way is Lee Jung-jae as the ultrapatriotic supercop hot on his trail. It’s a simple enough premise, but with a J.J. Abramsesque cat-and-mouse game spanning multiple countries and languages (five, with Jang surprisingly delivering the bulk of his dialogue in Thai), the story can’t help but be convoluted. Kwak also delves into Michael Bay territory, cramming the frame with car chases, explosions, and nausea-inducing handheld camerawork. Kwak previously directed Jang in the Korean blockbuster Chingu (Friend), a sort of testosterone-addled take on the chick-flick, albeit with the emphasis on male bonding and fighting. But while that film had a strong (if, by Western standards, sappy and maudlin) emotional core, Typhoon is all fight or flight, never stopping to take a breath. The best we get is a flashback interrupting what little narrative flow exists to illustrate Sin’s plight as a North Korean refugee and explain his misplaced hatred of South Korea, but sandwiched into the tumult as it is, it hurts more than helps the story. On the plus side, when the action does let up, Kwak’s recurring cinematographer Hong Kyeong-pyo uses an abundance of natural light, giving even the omnipresent overcast skies an ethereal beauty, and Jang has the feral, occasionally hammy intensity of a young Toshiro Mifune, somehow managing to elicit sympathy for his single-minded, megalomaniacal villain. Speaking of megalomania, there’s a third-act terrorist plot that even a Bond villain would find ludicrous, and a climactic battle that contains all the clichés: dangling chains, dripping water, walls of fire, a phallic knife fight, and the ubiquitous action flick line “You and I…we’re the same.” If Kwak really wanted to nail the American action flick vibe, he should have pared Typhoon down to a lean 90 minutes, as the film feels bloated at almost two hours. But if he wanted to nail the current zeitgeist of Korean cinema, he should have trusted himself to create something uniquely his (and his country’s) own.

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